Tuesday, August 2, 2016

WE DID THE OKEEFENOKEE AND TURNED OURSELVES AROUND

We left the high rise buildings,  multi-million dollar first and second homes, pristine white sand beaches, secured golf course communities, upscale shopping, spectacular views of Southwest Florida, and drove through the interior of the massive Big Cypress National Preserve (720,000 acres) which is adjacent to Everglades National Park (1,508,538 acres).  Upon entering Big Cypress we drove through the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge (26,400 acres) for several miles.  Although we didn't see one of these critically endangered species, a lot is being done to protect the Florida state animal.
Big Cypress National Preserve
Florida 
Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge
Immokalee, Florida
As we left Collier County and began entering some of the small towns as Immokalee and LaBelle it was apparent we had arrived in the area of the land of large cattle ranches and agricultural farms. 
  
Immokalee, Florida
The vastness of the ranches is amazing and when we entered sugar cane country it was a lot like all the cornfields in Iowa and Missouri - as far as the eye could see, on both sides of the road!

Sugar Cane Fields
Sugar Cane Fields
  As we entered Clewiston a sign welcomed us to "America's Sweetest Town".   This area is called "Big Sugar"... after the large corporation known as the  U. S. Sugar Corporation.

Sugar Cane Fields and U.S. Sugar Corporation
Produced over 700,000 tons of sugar cane per year
This was only the beginning of miles and miles of sugar cane, sod farms and the blackest black dirt we've ever seen.  Upon entering Belle Glade a sign welcomed us that said "Her Soil Is Her Fortune".

Belle Glade, FL
HER SOIL IS HER FORTUNE 
Black Dirt in Belle Glade, FL
A few miles further we passed the town of Pahokee, on the south shore of Lake Okeechobee ("Big Water" in Seminole language) in Palm Beach County.  Pahokee (grassy waters) is also known as "The Muck". 
Pahokee, FL
A Farming Community
Pahokee, FL
At this point the only sign of Lake Okeechobee is a tall levee and signs that point to the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail (a 109 mile path around Lake Okeechobee, the 7th largest lake in the U.S.)  Most of the trail is atop the 35 foot tall Herbert Hoover Dike - not for vehicles. 
Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail
also known as Herbert Hoover Dike
Lake Okeechobee was not visible until we reached a very small area on the eastern side of Highway 441/98 called Port Mayaca.  By this time we have seen bald eagles, osprey nests, and miles of  unspoiled, breathtaking scenery.
Our first view of Lake Okeechobee
One of the Locks that protects the water level of
Lake Okeechobee
   We arrived in Okeechobee to stay for an unforgettable week at Water's Edge RV Campground beside the Rim Canal, in Okeechobee.  Each day brought a greater appreciation of this area, its history, and more respect for the people who take care of our State's priceless natural resources.  

A Bald Eagle on the shore of Lake Okeechobee




This  visit made us aware of the fragile nature of our environmental stewardship in Southwest Florida, and how all of us have a responsibility to let our voices be heard when a move is made to destroy its balance.
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